Sustainable Development Goals:
Contact Person: Dr. Irene Wittmer
Contact id: firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Project
The Modular Stepwise Procedure (MSP) is a set of methods for surveying and assessing the status of water bodies. It is a collaboration between the federal government, cantons, research institution (Eawag) and the Association for Water Professionals (VSA). Launched in 1998, methods are now available for the most important aspects of assessing the status of watercourses in accordance with water protection legislation. In addition to these assessment methods for watercourses, it also includes the first methods for assessing the status of lakes, as well as methods for identifying the causes of deficits and for monitoring the effectiveness of measures.
- To identify deficits in accordance with Appendix 1 and 2 of the Waters Protection Ordinance (WPO) of Switzerland.
- To identify the causes of the deficits and the most efficient measures.
- To monitor the impact of the implemented measures.
Several levels in assessment (hence the name Modular Stepwise Procedure) were planned in the MSP with different investigation depths. It was assumed that the depth of the investigations would be low for an overview on a regional scale level (Level I), medium or high depth for system scale which means success-control of local measures or identifying causes (level II).
National Surface Water Quality Monitoring Programme (NAWA)- The policy enables the Federal Office of the Environment, in collaboration with other federal institutions and cantons, to document and evaluate the state of and changes in Swiss bodies of water on a national level. To effectively protect bodies of water, it is necessary to have sufficient knowledge of their state so that changes are recognised and measures can be suggested, where necessary.
Justification of the project
Earlier there was no standard method for surface water quality assessment and lakes. Therefore 20 years ago in 2000, government initiated procedures to research and development analysis of water systems. Since Switzerland is a quadrilingual country therefore research, development, communication and assessment were more complex even to keep up with different regions.
Earlier mere chemical assessment was prevalent comprising of a few parameters and indicators. Hence, there was a need to expand the parameters and scale of assessment to include biological, nutrients, micropollutant assessment. In 2015, it was realised that water quality assessment is an ongoing process and cannot be treated as a one-time subject.
Pressures of various kinds (micropollutants, morphology, hydropower and others) affect water bodies. With global research and attention to micropollutants, but biological aspects like biodiversity knowledge, are also expanding; making it accessible or identifiable. In this regard, continuously expanding the analysis and broadening the measuring aspects is a necessity. This tool thus, answers to the ever expanding and changing need of water quality assessment methods and scale.
Process of implementation
According to the Law on surface water protection the cantons should take steps in assessing the bad areas in terms of water quality. These concerns are then interpreted through MSP adopted by cantons and municipalities. MSP is updated regularly to include more parameters investigated through ongoing research. The cantons use the tool in either their own laboratories and biological experts or they mandate private company(ies) to assess the quality of water, its causes and sources. Then, cantons have to respond and identify measures following the requirement specified in the water protection law.
Tasks on what methods are required and at what scale is usually communicated by the federal agency to the MSP team, by embedding the requirements of the cantons. The team uses their scientific expertise to update the methods or mandates researchers to develop methods.
Knowledge exchange and Capacity Building: The scientific team enables knowledge exchange. Training and capacity building exercises for cantons and their teams is usually provided by the research institutions (For example Peak courses at Eawag).
Standardisation vs. Customisation: Certain methods are standardised based on the occurrence in the regions of Switzerland. However, based on geography, demography, physical and hydrogeological conditions, certain methods are also expanded to include the additional requirements.
Output: A colour coded report with 5 intuitional colour range- red (worst), orange, yellow, green, blue (best) depicting the actual status of water quality parameters is produced. The values of the measured parameter is compared to thresholds in order to assess the status (blue to red). The exact values as well as the colour code provides both technical and visual understanding of the status of water quality in the target area.
Challenges in implementation
- In case of biological assessment of water quality, one should also be able to inter-link the different causes and connect it with varying levels of chemical pollution and other pressures such as bad morphology.
- Limitations in time available at hand to include new parameters. Usually it takes 5-8 years to research, develop, test and experiment a method for a particular aspect however the requirement of the tool is usually in ‘today’ time.
- Interaction between stakeholders adds another layer of complexity.
- Time, human resources and funding are only a few other variables that the researchers and developers have to deal with.
The long-term vision for the method and the law for protection of water quality is to not only achieve drinkable water quality but go a step beyond and attain ecologically-required water quality. Ecosystem health is the driving vision for the tool and policy.
- Certain methods are more common and hence mostly adopted while other methods are not applied. For example ecotoxicological tests are developed but not very commonly used by cantons. The reasons are multi-fold.
- As more knowledge is gained, methods should continuously be developed. On the other hand, the assessments should approximately remain the same to assure long-term monitoring, which is challenging.
- Since the provincial governments own the rights over surface and ground water and one of their mandated tasks according to federal law and interest is public information and awareness. With the MSP method, the status in some cases and also the causes, sources of pollution of water etc can be identified, hence making it easier for communication to general public.
- Assessment of causes, sources and their inter-dependencies have enabled the requisite agencies to develop priority measures and take target-based, preventive measures.
The MSP tool is developed to encompass the data from water bodies in Switzerland and trans-boundary water bodies. Currently, there is no scaling up plan in progress beyond the requirements of Switzerland. In case trans-national agencies or European Union devises new legislations or revises regulations, then the tool will be adjusted to include the required water quality interests.
Areas of improvement
- So far, MSP develops methods. However, the real benefit is the data that is gained based on the methods. Improvement in water quality can be expected through national level data analysis and interpretation of data. Thus, policies are striving to achieve the interpretation and adapt actions accordingly.
- Biodiversity areas within canton boundaries should also be focussed in planning for future assessment measures. Hence, ongoing progress in the methods and tools is essential.
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